May 31, 2020

Dear Alumni,

Nina Simone’s “Mississippi Goddam” keeps resonating in my ear. I keep thinking back, too, to page 134 from Claudia Rankine’s Citizen. With each reprinting of this powerful book since 2012, the list of names of black people slain through state-sanctioned violence grows. In 2012, the list was just one name. The ink for one name is too much to spill.

I feel and grieve all of it. The sadness, fear, anger, bone-deep fatigue of the sameness of this story and reality year after year, decade after decade, over centuries. I feel it all as a black woman, as a black mother of black children, as a partner of a black man. I feel it as a child of black parents, both veterans of the United States armed forces who served for a country that continuously fails to value, hear, see, and protect the humanity of People of Color. I feel it as a friend, as family, and as a colleague to black and brown bodies living in this world. I feel it all as an educator of color centering equity, wellbeing, and the science of learning as levers of change that sticks. 

Hatred did not stop in this pandemic world. Hatred does not stop. The systems of racism and hate that embolden people to murder black and brown bodies, that deem these bodies on mere sight alone as dangerous haven’t stopped. No matter how much we insist times have changed – and no matter how much we recognize, celebrate, and benefit from progress over time – in this moment, we are called to bear witness to what progress, what changes, what interventions have failed, who they have failed, and what work we still need to do.

In the face of hatred’s persistence, our work to build a just world can’t afford to stop.

Black and brown people are dying as the result of unfortunately resilient systems of oppression – long-standing, churning, oft-reinvented systems of oppression. These systems have demonstrated time and again their ability to reimagine themselves – from slavery to segregation to inequitable school systems to the prison industrial complex to police violence to citizen violence. Anti-Asian xenophobia, antisemitic violence and expressions of hate, and homophobia and violence against transgendered individuals all continue to rise. If we are going to successfully create a world where all are valued and all thrive, we need to do anti-oppression work at all levels. To make lasting systemic change, we must invest our energy in deep, personal, individual work.  And that energy needs to be amplified beyond the individual and interpersonal to institutional and structural levels of the system. 

I write to call on each of you, as members of this powerful network of educator-leaders, to join me in committing to anti-oppression work personally and in our schools. Let’s use our individual and collective power to disrupt systems of racism, all oppression, violence, and inequity in our spheres of influence – with our students, our colleagues, in our classrooms, our schools, through our research and scholarship, our pedagogy, our mentorship and ally-ship of others. Together we can lead this change.

Our curriculum at the Klingenstein Center has shifted in the last two years to center equity, inclusion, and anti-oppression learning as an essential part of teaching and leading. And we need to do more. If you are looking for learning opportunities towards action, stay tuned for information on our summer workshop on anti-oppression teaching and leading. Details on that offering and other learning opportunities are forthcoming. More immediately, Being Antiracist, from the National Museum of African American History and Culture, provides background, resources, and actionable steps.

The time is now. It is not enough to educate our students so that they can make a better future later. The future we imagine off in the distance will arrive too late. We need to also take charge of owning our responsibility to make our future now. My own children’s lives depend on it. The lives of our black and brown students and colleagues, past and present, depend on it. All our lives depend on it.

Nicole Brittingham Furlonge, PhD
Klingenstein Family Chair Professor and Director
The Klingenstein Center


KlingensteinCenter Teachers College Columbia University

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